Myrtle Mae Watford, 1922-2010

My grandmother died yesterday. Ganny was 88 years old, had emphysema, and had smoked for something like 70 years. Over the past two months she became extremely frail; her breathing and heartbeat became erratic, and eventually she was bedridden. It was very difficult for my mother and aunt; someone was with her all the time. I could not be of any real help, because I have two tiny children with me at all times. I was expecting the call, but it was still very difficult.

I asked for an extension on my book for Circlet. I have to be realistic about what I’m going to be able to accomplish, both time-wise and mental-energy-wise. I feel alright most of the time, but every little while my throat will catch and I’ll hold my breath until it passes. I don’t want to get upset in front of the kids. I’ve cried a little with them, but they don’t need to see their Mama having a mild fit every 15 minutes. Especially the toddler, who has no idea what’s going on. He came over to me at one point and patted my hair and said “It’s okay, Mama.” My sweet boy.

Ganny was a fixture in my life from an early age. When we lived in Pennsylvania we would make regular trips to Texas for visits. My father was transferred to Texas when I was 6, just after starting 1st grade. When Mom asked us, “Who wants to move to Texas?” my older brother and I screamed “I DO! I DO!” and my little brother yelled “ME TOO!” This being Robert’s rallying cry. Me too. We lived with Ganny for a little while in her tiny house in Hutchins until Mom and Dad bought our house in Duncanville. Eventually Ganny bought half a duplex in DeSoto; it was nice having her so close.

For the next dozen or so years, she was over a lot. She came and looked after us while my mother got her master’s degree and then worked as a special education diagnostician for Duncanville ISD. I remember her folding the laundry on the coffee table, yelling at the cat as it knocked stacks of clean laundry onto the floor. She and Lady, our labrador/golden retriever mix, were especially close. Lady was a good dog; she stayed with Ganny when we went on vacations, and they enjoyed each others’ company.

As I got older I learned more about Ganny’s life. I learned that she grew up on a farm in Central Texas during the Depression. No wonder she was as frugal as she was. She hated spending money on things like appliance repair, taxes and bills. Those kinds of maintenance expenses irritated her. In fact, lots of things irritated Ganny; she was an irascible sort, though always loving and (mostly) patient. There are things that I will always associate with her. Radishes, for one. She usually had radishes in her garden. She hated snakes with a deep and abiding passion, and could barely tolerate worms because of their resemblance. She loved hummingbirds, cardinals and other songbirds; she warred with the squirrels.

I asked her once why she didn’t remarry. She said there had been some hopefuls over the years but, she said with a sigh, “There wasn’t another James.” I’ve heard a lot about James Watford over the years. How he was the volunteer fire chief, and how he loved tinkering and fixing things. While talking about computers once, Ganny expressed some relief that computers hadn’t been around when he was alive. “He would’ve had a dozen of those things in pieces all over the house!” She eloped when she was still in school, and was really mad that they would not allow her to return to school because she was married. Especially since Some Other Girl got married, and was allowed back because of some of her connections. Different times, huh? There is some debate as to whether Ganny did eventually get to finish school. We may never know.

There are so many stories going through my head … How her brother Travis came back from the war, stayed two weeks, then as he drove off, waved at them – wearing a wedding ring. Oh that must have driven those girls nuts! How her father had tracked a thief who had taken some meat from them to a nearby shack. Stories of her animals, Pedro and Tuffy and Bo and Queenie and a dozen others. How her older brother Pete used to make her hold the chicken while he chopped its head off. How no one knew that her father’s name was Yelbert until his funeral; they’d known him as YC. Can’t say I blame ol’ Yelbert.

So next Monday we will go down to Groesbeck, where most of the rest of the family is buried. All my life, there’s been a tombstone with her name on it and one date. Shortly, there will be a punctuating date on it. On one side is her husband James. On the other is her daughter Frances, or “Cookie.” She never did get along well with Cookie, who was mildly mentally challenged and lived with Ganny most of her life. Ganny once pointed to the narrow space between her and Cookie and said, “You oughta be buried right here, to keep me and her a little more separated.” Thanks Ganny, that’s exactly what I want to do for eternity. Makes me smile to think of it, though. It’s a nice spot, next to a pasture with a herd of cattle, a pond and lots of big oak trees. It’s right down the road from the farm on which she grew up, which belongs now to her nephew Donald. When we were in Groesbeck this past spring to bury her sister-in-law Marian (the mystery bride Travis flaunted at them), I got to see the old farm. It is a beautiful place. A good place to begin, and a good place to end.

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